Official Charlie Strong hire appears imminent for Texas

Andy Lyons

Multiple reports on Friday evening indicated that the search is over.

The next chapter of Texas Longhorns football looks like it is set to begin with multiple reports on Friday evening that the next head coach will be Louisville's Charlie Strong, the 29th head coach in school history.

Though the hire is not yet official, if reports from ESPN are correct, a staff meeting at Louisville on Saturday morning will allow Strong to inform Cardinals officials, staff, and players about his pending move.

At that point, an official statement should come from Texas.

As of early Saturday morning, most reports held that Strong will accept a five-year, $25-million contract from the Longhorns.

With a 22-3 record over the last two seasons at Louisville and a 37-15 mark overall, Strong has turned around a program that floundered during the Steve Kragthorpe years, recruited the state of Florida well, including luring star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to Louisville, and coached up tough defenses that maintained the high standards Strong set at Florida without the same access to abundant talent.

Opponents converted only 26.7% of their third downs against a defense that gave up only 12.2 points per game in 2013. As a result, S&P+ had the Cardinals as the nation's 14th-best defense, a marked improvement from a group that ranked No. 81 nationally by the same measurement before Strong arrived.

From ESPN on Strong's defenses at Lousiville:

During his four seasons, the Cardinals were in the top 10 in the FBS in points per game, yards per game, yards per play and sack percentage. In the three years prior to Strong's arrival, Louisville ranked 75th-or-worse in each of those categories.

A successful defensive coordinator starting in 1999 with South Carolina, Strong survived the transition from Ron Zook to Urban Meyer at Florida -- the only coach to do so -- before taking the Louisville job in 2010. During his time in Gainesville, he helped oversee defenses on teams that won national championships in 2006 and 2008.

Outspoken about the fact that he believed his race and interracial relationship played a role in his long journey to landing a head coaching role in college football, his hire at Texas marks a major step forward for a school that was the last to field an all-white national championship team, a year before Julius Whittier broke the color barrier at Texas.

Beyond the racial implications, for a defensive-minded coach like Strong, the offensive coordinator hire will be critical. Strong's current coordinator, Shawn Watson, worked for Bo Pelini at Nebraska and coached some record-setting offenses in terms of passing production before taking over play calling duties in 2010 and then helping to develop Teddy Bridgewater into one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

Watson isn't necessarily a sexy name among up-and-coming offensive coordinators because it's not clear how much of his recent success was because of Bridgewater and how much he helped Bridgewater refine his game, so the choice will provide critical perspective into what kind of team Strong envisions moving forward.

Beyond that, Strong will also have to establish Texas ties with his staff -- while his connections in Florida should benefit the Longhorns in the long run, Texas high school football payers will always be the lifeblood of the program.

Questions also remain about how exactly Strong earned himself the job. Was he merely the best remaining candidate after Baylor's Art Briles and UCLA's Jim Mora apparently turned down the job on Friday? Throw in the timing of Nick Saban's extension and Jimbo Fisher's extension and it's hard to believe that the Longhorns landed their first choice.

So even though athletics director Steve Patterson understandably wanted to keep the search under wraps as much as possible, it's not like reports emerged about Strong blowing away Texas officials with his interview.

Those details will come out in the press conference introducing Strong and in reports after the fact as more about the process becomes known from sources who will no longer have to worry about feeling the wrath from an athletic director making the first and most important hire of his career.

Why is that narrative important? Because it will help define how much support there was from other factions for the hire of Strong and a potential timetable for how long Strong has to rebuild the program.

Keeping those particular BBs in the box may be a tall task for a coach not known for political acumen. But then, Texas isn't trying to find another Mack Brown, just the coach best suited to win again moving forward.

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